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A time to read Uganda

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Dr Graham Mort reads from his book

Dr Graham Mort reads from his book. PHOTO BY DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA 

By DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA

Posted  Saturday, July 23  2011 at  00:00
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The question that has long confounded Uganda’s literary community is why home literature, which is an expression of our identity, continues to be relegated on the national school curriculum in favour of the likes of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice among other foreign works.

Ugandan schools still follow the curriculum structure put in place by colonial masters almost 50 years ago, giving British literature premium. Currently, there are only two Ugandan books for O’level and two for A’level on the syllabus. Moreover, there is no guarantee that these books are taught by the teachers. They are just a part of many other foreign books that are preferred by teachers because they have sufficient study material online.

At a recent literary seminar organised by the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite), as part of their 2011 literary week celebrations, the head of Literature and English at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), Angella Kyagaba, was cornered into explaining why so many works of acclaim and contemporary relevance by Ugandan writers have not been considered. Her explanation that William Shakespeare’s works continue to dominate Uganda’s literature syllabus because Shakespeare is the father of the British drama, was more than shocking.

Femrite coordinator, Hilda Twongyeirwe challenged her and authorities in our education sector to recognise Ugandan literature by giving it priority on the teaching syllabus. “Much as these books by Shakespeare and the like should remain on the syllabus, room should be given to Ugandan Literature as well,” argued Ms. Twongyeirwe, “How else shall we grow our own literature when it is not deliberately given space in the academic discussions?”

In the end, Ms Kyagaba conceded that NCDC would restructure the Literature syllabus to have a compulsory section of Ugandan literature. This means the choice of books to teach in this section will be from Ugandan books only.

Information and National Guidance Minister, Mary Karoro Okurut who is also the founder of Femrite, excited the literati by pledging to use her influence to push for more Ugandan books to be put on the literature syllabus. She bought 100 copies of the Never Too Late anthology to distribute to secondary schools in her constituency. Parents were also challenged to get involved in the promotion of Ugandan authored books by stocking their home libraries with such books and inspiring their children to read them.

The launch of Never Too Late, the latest collection of 15 short stories, was another highlight of the literary week. Edited by Dr. Aaron Mushengyezi and Hilda Twongyeirwe, the anthology which was written for the teenage audience but appeals to adults as well, addresses issues like teenage pregnancies, child abuse in homes, drug abuse, among others, all representing the desire for change for a better society.

It was a full house at the Uganda Museum where the launch took place, with students attending the weekly event in multitudes, a clear signal that they love reading, and since a reading culture goes with a writing culture, the country’s literary industry is guaranteed to blossom even more.

Award winning author Dr Graham Mort, who was behind the British Council writers programme, Crossing Borders, that helped promote budding Ugandan writers, was the chief guest at the literary week and shared his life story; how he was transformed by the experience of reading. He described Never Too Late, as an embodiment of literature that transforms society; stories that are relevant, shaping our life and beliefs as a people.

The literary week was crowned on Friday July 8, with a bonfire night attended by over 50 literary enthusiasts including the newly elected Femrite chairperson and 2006 commonwealth literature prize winner, Doreen Baingana. After paying an entry fee of Shs5,000, participants won books and other prizes in a raffle, but all the proceeds went to Loving Hearts Baby’s Home.

But the real icing on the literary cake was the exhilarating short-story readings and poetry recitals. Prof. Graham Mort himself read from his award-winning poetry book Visibility, and from Uganda’s golden era of literature (1960s-70s) came poet Prof Laban Erapu who recited several poems from his new collection of unpublished poetry.